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Cultural awareness will head off offensive chants, UBC school says

Louise Cowin, vice-president for students, at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, speaks to media in Vancouver on Oct. 21, 2013.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

A controversial chant based on the Disney movie Pocahontas used by students at the University of British Columbia has set off a series of measures to help students better understand First Nations.

The changes were announced in a report arising from frosh events sponsored by the Commerce Undergraduate Society last summer.

"The report released today shows us there is very little awareness of indigenous peoples and their concerns among the students we interviewed," Louise Cowin, UBC's vice-president of students, said in a news release Monday.

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"Clearly, UBC has a role to play in educating students to become more culturally competent."

The report found that student leaders at the Sauder School of Business selected the Pocahontas theme and created the chant.

The chant used by the group was: "Pocah, Pocah, Pocah, Pocahontas – white man took our land … Pocahontass, ass, ass, ass," the report said.

The chant was sung for the first time at orientation activities this year, Ms. Cowin said in an interview.

"The university is going to undertake a role in ensuring that all students who have responsibility for leading orientation events in the future have attended a university-provided workshop around matters of aboriginal, indigenous understanding such as equity and social justice."

Other measures include curriculum development on indigenous topics, events to build awareness around diversity, respect and ethical leadership, and on First Nations issues including systemic racism.

Hanna Butson, of the university's First Nations Study Program, said staff and students of the program were disturbed by the allegations of demeaning, anti-aboriginal and sexist stereotypes in addition to the previously publicized rape chants.

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"If these new reports are accurate, they speak to a profound lack of understanding about indigenous peoples, as well as a seeming lack of empathy or context for why these matters might be offensive."

In September, UBC's undergraduate society was involved in a chant glorifying abuse of underage girls and after controversy exploded around the chant, offered $250,000 for sexual abuse counselling and education for students.

Two student executives with Sauder quit in September and the society ended its frosh events after students took part in the chant that appeared to endorse rape.

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